By Attorney Mark Hazelbaker
WACO Legal Counsel

It’s renewal time. Campgrounds need to decide whether to offer seasonal agreements to campers for 2021. You should use non-renewal decisions freely to improve your campground.

In the final analysis, campgrounds are in the peace, quiet and fun business. If you have campers that rub you the wrong way, annoy other people, refuse to cooperate, or grumble about things, don’t hesitate. If they have had payment problems which you can’t understand, it’s time to stop the problem Put them out of your misery. Send them packing. Give them a non-renewal notice.

Of course, it’s scary to non-renew a customer. There’s always the fear that a site might go empty. This year, many campgrounds have been busier than ever. That’s likely to recur in 2021 and beyond. The population continues to age and seeks safe and relaxing experiences closer to home. Fear not. A new camper will be found.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that you “owe” a camper renewal. If you’ve been in business more than a very short time, you are well aware that customers put their own economic well being far ahead of loyalty to any business. I’m not saying there is no such thing as loyalty. I’m saying that customers don’t hesitate to put themselves first. Neither should you.

Consider also that non-renewing troublesome guests actually is loyal – to the good guests you have who deserve good companions.

There is a widespread tendency to give undue weight to previous relationships and history with customers over present concerns. That’s a variation on the “sunk costs fallacy.” There is a broad tendency to continue to do business with people who owe money in the hope that they eventually will pay. In truth, once money goes into arrears – or relationships deteriorate – you have to ignore the past. Instead, you have to look dispassionately at how things are today. Is this camper going to somehow become a nice person again (if they ever were)?

There is also a human tendency to tolerate a slow burn as long as it does not flare up into a bonfire. Tolerating and renewing campers who are not great guests does no good to anyone. It punishes the campers who are good customers. It creates needless tension. And, if we adopt the idea that we have to wait for a major incident, we are setting the campground up for an ugly incident. When the fire finally bursts into a conflagration, it will ruin the campground experience for everyone for a long time. It will divert your energy and time from taking care of guests who deserve the attention. Renewal is the chance to put out the fire.

You, as the campground owners and managers, are responsible for the atmosphere, culture and experience your guests enjoy. From the moment you accept guests as campers on, you need to communicate what your expectations of guests are – and that their presence on the campground is a privilege which is conditioned on meeting those expectations.

As you go through renewals, talk to your staff. Ask them if there are campers who have treated them poorly, or have been rude to others. If you have complaints from campers about other campers, follow up on them. Don’t accept general comments like “he’s a jerk.” Ask what specific behaviors the camper engaged in that was troublesome – there’s a big difference between being considered a jerk because you told a bad joke and being a jerk by refusing to turn loud music down late at night.

Use your judgment, and then, stand by it. Once you decide not to renew someone, that’s the end of the process. There is no appeal. If the guest causes trouble over the non-renewal, remove them.

Winnowing out the less than ideal campers will enhance your campground and strengthen it. Use that decision thoughtfully, but freely.